There quite a few theories about how to go about planning a big event, but one thing that every expert agrees upon is the steps necessary to plan an event — and what order those steps need to come in. Quite simply, if you do these things out of order, things might go just fine — but it will largely because of luck and seat-of-your-pants adjustments, not because you did it ‘right.’ If you follow the steps in order, you’ll still have issues crop up (every event does!) but at least you’ll have your groundwork laid carefully enough to deal with those issues from a place of competence and understanding.
Step One: Record Your Objectives
Every event has a reason for existing: what’s yours? If you’re creating a corporate or trade event, you might have measurable goals to reach — if you do, write them down using the S.M.A.R.T. rubric: make your goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Trackable. If your event is more personal, like a bar mitzvah or quinceañera, you should still write down your basic objectives — how do you want the attendees to feel at each stage? What actions do you want them to take?
Step Two: Determine Your Budget and Number of Guests/Participants
The first significant constraint — if you don’t know what your budget is, you run the risk of every future decision being rendered irrelevant by lack of money. The second important part of your budget is your budget per person, which means you need to know how many people your event will be servicing.
Step Three: Find Your Hook
Every event — yes, even a ‘predictable’ one like a wedding or a ‘boring’ one like a business seminar — should have a hook: something about it that will engage the imagination of the participants. There are hundreds of examples of epic weddings all over the Internet. Corporate events can benefit enormously by researching what their employees are generally into and theming around it, whether that means taking your department out for 18 holes with a local golf champ or hosting a massive LAN party and getting your people thinking teamwork by creatively teaming up in Overwatch. Your hook is more important than your vision, and in fact your vision should be largely built around your hook, thus this part comes first. (Just be sure that if your hook involves a specific person, you reach out to them now and start talking to them about what it will take to get them there.)
Step Four: Decide Your Vision
The next step is to imagine the event. Start generally, perhaps by brainstorming potential themes, and explore several different alternatives. Pick the few that are most appropriate to the event’s objectives and participants, and test them against your budget. But don’t stop there! When you settle on one, imagine every stage of the event, and write out a schedule: what stages does the event take place in? What are the objectives of each stage? What will the audience need most to keep enjoying this event? How can you give it to them? Get familiar with your conception of the event until you can talk it through to a friend without referring to any notes. This might seem like a lot of effort, but it’s not as hard as it sounds, and once you do it, you’ll have the grounding you need to guide all of the next steps, and the time you save performing them will make up for this early investment.
Step Five: Plan the Guests’ Trip to the Opening Moments
An event starts not once everyone is seated, but the moment everyone leaves home. If you’re providing transportation, plan out what that transportation will be with an eye toward priming the guest for the event. Ditto for lodging. Then, plan your guests’ entrance. Not just in terms of physically stepping into the building (though that’s a great opportunity to wow them as well), but in terms of how they will be greeted at the door, and how they can be further primed for the event as they do so. Finally, plan out how the guests will be invited and how they will register/RSVP, again with an eye toward setting up the event’s impact.
All right! You’re done with the almost-entirely-mental part of the event planning process. Come back next week for the part where we bring all of this abstracting crashing hard into concrete reality.